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Thread: Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium

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    Default Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium




    If Barack Obama were to marshal Americaís vast scientific and strategic resources behind a new Manhattan Project, he might reasonably hope to reinvent the global energy landscape and sketch an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years.




    Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal


    We could then stop arguing about wind mills, deepwater drilling, IPCC hockey sticks, or strategic reliance on the Kremlin. History will move on fast.

    Muddling on with the status quo is not a grown-up policy. The International Energy Agency says the world must invest $26 trillion (£16.7 trillion) over the next 20 years to avert an energy shock. The scramble for scarce fuel is already leading to friction between China, India, and the West.

    There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all been hoping for, though we have barely begun to crack the potential of solar power.

    Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal Ė named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thorís day or Thursday - produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.

    Thorium eats its own hazardous waste. It can even scavenge the plutonium left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. "Itís the Big One," said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering.

    "Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and itís essentially free. You donít have to deal with uranium cartels," he said.

    Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, a radioactive by-product if they try to dig up rare earth metals. The US and Australia are full of the stuff. So are the granite rocks of Cornwall. You do not need much: all is potentially usable as fuel, compared to just 0.7pc for uranium.

    After the Manhattan Project, US physicists in the late 1940s were tempted by thorium for use in civil reactors. It has a higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed. It does not require isotope separation, a big cost saving. But by then America needed the plutonium residue from uranium to build bombs.

    "They were really going after the weapons," said Professor Egil Lillestol, a world authority on the thorium fuel-cycle at CERN. "It is almost impossible make nuclear weapons out of thorium because it is too difficult to handle. It wouldnít be worth trying." It emits too many high gamma rays.

    You might have thought that thorium reactors were the answer to every dream but when CERN went to the European Commission for development funds in 1999-2000, they were rebuffed.

    Brussels turned to its technical experts, who happened to be French because the French dominate the EUís nuclear industry. "They didnít want competition because they had made a huge investment in the old technology," he said.

    Another decade was lost. It was a sad triumph of vested interests over scientific progress. "We have very little time to waste because the world is running out of fossil fuels. Renewables canít replace them. Nuclear fusion is not going work for a century, if ever," he said.

    The Norwegian group Aker Solutions has bought Dr Rubbiaís patent for the thorium fuel-cycle, and is working on his design for a proton accelerator at its UK operation.

    Victoria Ashley, the project manager, said it could lead to a network of pint-sized 600MW reactors that are lodged underground, can supply small grids, and do not require a safety citadel. It will take £2bn to build the first one, and Aker needs £100mn for the next test phase.

    The UK has shown little appetite for what it regards as a "huge paradigm shift to a new technology". Too much work and sunk cost has already gone into the next generation of reactors, which have another 60 years of life.

    So Aker is looking for tie-ups with the US, Russia, or China. The Indians have their own projects - none yet built - dating from days when they switched to thorium because their weapons programme prompted a uranium ban.

    America should have fewer inhibitions than Europe in creating a leapfrog technology. The US allowed its nuclear industry to stagnate after Three Mile Island in 1979.

    Anti-nuclear neorosis is at last ebbing. The White House has approved $8bn in loan guarantees for new reactors, yet America has been strangely passive. Where is the superb confidence that put a man on the moon?

    A few US pioneers are exploring a truly radical shift to a liquid fuel based on molten-fluoride salts, an idea once pursued by US physicist Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee in the 1960s. The original documents were retrieved by Mr Sorensen.

    Moving away from solid fuel may overcome some of thoriumís "idiosyncracies". "You have to use the right machine. You donít use diesel in a petrol car: you build a diesel engine," said Mr Sorensen.

    Thorium-fluoride reactors can operate at atmospheric temperature. "The plants would be much smaller and less expensive. You wouldnít need those huge containment domes because thereís no pressurized water in the reactor. Itís close-fitting," he said.

    Nuclear power could become routine and unthreatening. But first there is the barrier of establishment prejudice.

    When Hungarian scientists led by Leo Szilard tried to alert Washington in late 1939 that the Nazis were working on an atomic bomb, they were brushed off with disbelief. Albert Einstein interceded through the Belgian queen mother, eventually getting a personal envoy into the Oval Office.

    Roosevelt initially fobbed him off. He listened more closely at a second meeting over breakfast the next day, then made up his mind within minutes. "This needs action," he told his military aide. It was the birth of the Manhattan Project. As a result, the US had an atomic weapon early enough to deter Stalin from going too far in Europe.

    The global energy crunch needs equal "action". If it works, Manhattan II could restore American optimism and strategic leadership at a stroke: if not, it is a boost for US science and surely a more fruitful way to pull the US out of perma-slump than scattershot stimulus.

    Even better, team up with China and do it together, for all our sakes.
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    As if...Way too much politics and dirty money tied up in oil for it's guardians to relinquish their ill-gotten power.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arbiter View Post
    As if...Way too much politics and dirty money tied up in oil for it's guardians to relinquish their ill-gotten power.
    Totally agree.

    My disagreement also is with the fact that they state:

    "We have very little time to waste because the world is running out of fossil fuels. Renewables canít replace them."

    This remark is always touted by someone wanting to make money from the old way of digging stuff up and "burning" it.

    They also say that:

    "Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, a radioactive by-product if they try to dig up rare earth metals."

    It makes me wonder how many Million Tonnes of "other stuff" they have to sift through to get to the now valuable Thorium.

    It also worries me that the wonders of Thorium are that it has heaps more bang for buck than Uranium, but is so benign.

    i doubt that.

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    I'm no expert in these things.... I'm not qualified....

    I hope it true
    Reality is an invention of my imagination.
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    Wikipedia is worth a read. Basically it backs Fernbays's article.



    Seems India is a leader and we have plenty of 'it'.

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    Ah Thorium. Every now and then it crops up as a magic answer like fairy dust.

    Firstly, bad news folks. You're not going to pull into a service station and full up with a gallon of Thorium !

    Relating Thorium with oil supplies is like relating Uranium to oil supplies.
    They're very loosely related. Unless you can use the electricity supplied from nuclear power to power the transport industry, the association is rather futile.
    Trains, trams, cranes etc and even (trolley) buses can be powered directly from the grid, but cars and trucks. It's a bit more difficult.






    It also worries me that the wonders of Thorium are that it has heaps more bang for buck than Uranium, but is so benign.
    Nothing to worry about. Thorium isn't much different from Uranium.
    Uranium is benign but the greens have blown it out of proportion.
    So you're being told how good Thorium is based on green bullshit about how bad uranium is.

    Here's an example; "Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium."
    OR
    If we take into account that Thorium reactors are breeder reactors and we use Uranium in breeder reactors, then they are about the same tonne for tonne.
    OR
    If you exclude breeder reactors from the equation then the ratio becomes infinite because Thorium 232 isn't fissile.


    Obama ain't going to kill anything. He has no options, no fix and no time.
    The oil companies are the ones who are going to solve the problem.
    When they can't find any more resources, then they will look for other markets or close up shop. The public will then have to find alternatives themselves or go cold turkey.

    But don't be too easily fooled that resources are running out as quickly as the greens say they are. There is still enough oil & gas resources left to buy the world some time.
    Yes I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.

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    What a shame Australia won't be part of that with the Greens calling the shots.

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    While I don't agree with the greens policy, they do play an important part in our government. If they are too restrictive or manipulative with their politics then there will be a voter backlash against them.
    But for the time being a lot of people are buying their environmental hard sell.

    Each election they pick up a larger segment of the senate vote, so watch for the turning point when they actually start to loose seats. That's when things are going to get very interesting.
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    I prefer the idea of Power generation by nuclear means but it has its hazards, the biggest is the safe disposal of waste.
    Solar is great while the sunshines, Water if you have suitable rivers, wind when it blows and Tidal has its place.
    As Trash points out that powering up the grid is fairly straight forward, But our biggest problem is the internal combustion engine.
    Find a way to replace it so you can drive a Road Train from Adelaide to Darwin or Sydney to Perth with no refueling and you will have built the Better Mouse Trap !!!
    I stand unequivicably behind everything I say , I just dont ever remember saying it !!

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    as far as i am aware, there is very little waste from the latest generation reactors.

    an interesting article on the impact of li-ion batteries on the environment here-



    re the paper-



    the diesel actually ends up more 'green' than the battery version of the same car! nuclear instead of coal would change that, but not completely. the conversion to electric would take a long time, and some form of transport would find it next to impossible/impractical.

    here is an idea, take the $43 bil set aside for the nbn and buy some nuclear reactors.. haha fat chance with the greens in power.

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    Yes, well you can imagine what would be required if say internal combustion engines were phased out over the next 10 years for electric.
    Our electricity generation demands would be doubled to supply personal transport.
    How you source it solar, wind or nuclear will effect load generation.

    There will be two periods where most traffic is off the grid (transport peak hours).
    The itinerant nature of the charging and supply times makes the electricity use rather unpredictable itself, but the chaos itself can be kind of useful itself.

    As for nuclear waste. Well this is still a beat up on part of the greens and it still amazes me how they have got away with the negative propaganda and there does not appear to be any change in the near future.
    The general public perception of nuclear waste is that it is inherently evil and that there is lots of it.

    Reality is that the stuff is not difficult to manipulate. It requires some special precautions, but otherwise it is physically stable. It's also rather small by volume.
    The greens give the impression that there is mountains and mountains of spent fuel assemblies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Depending on the size of the reactor, a year's worth of spent fuel assemblies is about 5 cubic metres. About the volume of a small car.
    Multiply this buy the expected 50 year life of a reactor and you're hard pressed to fill an olympic swimming pool.
    Multiply this by all of the power station reactors that have ever been operational and those for the next 50 years and we have roughly 600 reactors. All of the world's nuclear waste for 100 years of nuclear power doesn't even take up the space of one suburb.
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    Trash, I totaly agree with your first 2 paragraphs and I cannot see in reality totaly replacing the IC engine.
    What I perhaps didnt explain properly I meant by replacing the Internal Combustion engine was more finding a fuel it could run on as well as it does currently on Petrol or Diesal and remove its dependency for fossil fuels.
    We can lubricate the moving parts with all manner of vegetable oil replacements which I think are readily available now, its just the fuel and the emmissions it makes.
    As for Nuclear waste, I wasnt thinking of volume rather the length of time it takes before its considered 'Safe'.
    I may be way out in left field here but I would think we would have far greater 'Piles' of old useless batteries and all their waste if we went Solar/Wind rather than nuclear generation.
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    I believe attempts have already been made to try to convince the Obama administration towards looking into this but I have not heard of any response.

    But why does Obama have to do every thing?

    I know of a country that is not in recession and apparently sits on heaps thorium but expects the rest of the world do all the research and produce everything for them.

    ...but that country seems too busy trying to regulate itself.
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    13 years down the road and some of you might have noticed a distinct lack of Thorium technology and a lot more hype about more magic fairy dust like Molten salt reactors.
    Thorium still has potential as a source of energy, but not because anybody is suppressing it. Well, nobody but the Greens, but they suppress anything nuclear.
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    ...nice thread dig =)

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    If you do a bit more digging you will find also more threads on the matter, particularly me and Trash somewhat disagreeing on advantages with the Thorium and Molten Salt solutions versus the classic Soviet era reactors he prefers.

    The Chinese are on the 'Fairy Dust'. it has not been fired up yet, maybe soon:
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